Saturday, May 30, 2015

“Cougar Annie’s Garden” by Margaret Horsfield

I want to thank my blogging friend over at Tramp's Camp for suggesting Cougar Annie’s Garden by Margaret Horsfield (Salal Books, 1999). I’m always on the lookout for books about Coastal BC, and especially books about women who’ve chosen to live in remote areas. Annie was the colourful nickname for a fascinating woman who lived most of her adult life on the remote and at times inhospitable west coast of Vancouver Island. She was born Ada Annie Jordan in Sacramento, California, in 1888. That would make her of my grandma’s era.

After experiencing exciting places such as English, Australia, and South Africa in her youth, the family settled in Vancouver, BC. Here she met and married Willie Rae-Arthur in 1909. Willie drank heavily and became addicted to opium. His doctor’s advice was to move away from temptation. Willie Rae-Arthur couldn’t have found a more remote spot away from the ills of city life than Boat Basin on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Willie pre-empted 117 acres that became his freehold property in 1915. By then, a cabin was built and Ada Annie had a good start on carving a garden out of the surrounding rainforest. Not an easy task. It wasn’t easy having babies and raising a large family in a boat access only location. Everything, goats and chickens included, had to arrive by steamer and then canoe.

The book chronicles Annie’s life from 1915 through when she was blind and in her mid-90s. She married several times (mail order husband style) to keep the property going and made a living from nursery stock in her garden, running the Boat Basin Post Office (in the front of her house), and hunting and trapping (including cougars).

Prior to her death in 1985, Ada Annie sold her property to Peter Buckland, a man from Seattle who befriended her and loved his summer trips to the west coast. He has since restored the garden and created an education center for field research and study. The encroaching forest has been kept at bay, and the legacy of an amazing, resourceful, sometimes ruthless woman has been preserved, at least for now.

Here's some links with more information about Cougar Annie and her garden.

     Voices from the Sound
     The Boat Basin Foundation
     The Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre

Thanks again Vicky. It was a great book including lots of history about early Coastal BC settlers’ lives, the local Hesquait First Nation, and the good and bad effects of outpost churches on people’s lives. I'm not sure if it is still in print, but used copies can be found online. -- Margy


  1. I'm glad you posted about Annie, not an easy life but she made the best of it. Amazing woman.

    1. And to think of when they started living on the coast. Even harder then than now. - Margy

  2. That sounds like a fascinating but very hard life Annie had. It's another book to add to my ever growing list of ones to read.

    1. I have a huge stack at the cabin, but that's a good thing. I alternate between print and e-books depending on the title. When I travel, e-books are so much easier, but many of the books I like to read are older and not available in an electronic format. - Margy

  3. Sounds like a fascinating story.


We welcome your comments and questions. - Wayne and Margy